In my previous article about the manga Sensual Phrase, I discussed how the manga didn’t take advantage of its storytelling and character-building potential because it was so invested in shoving its heroine to the side. One of the side effects of this, intended or not, is that instead the love interest, Sakuya, is placed further in the spotlight. So while our attention on Aine is lessened, our focus and scrutinizing on Sakuya is increased. If creator Mayu Shinjo wanted Sakuya to remain a likable character, allowing this to happen wasn’t the best course of action. At all. This isn’t because Sakuya is a bit of an asshole—he’s a seventeen year old rock star, I’d be hard-pressed to find one of those that isn’t at least a little bit of an ass. Rather, it’s because the story lays out just abusive Sakuya and Aine’s relationship actually is.
Trigger warning for discussions of mental and sexual abuse under the cut.
I know that their relationship is full-fledged abusive except for the small fact that Sakuya doesn’t make Aine cut off contact with her outside friends. The horrifying thing is, though, that he doesn’t need to. Due to her relationship with Sakuya, she doesn’t have any friends in her own school (save for maybe one) and she essentially cuts of contact with her parents because she thinks they don’t understand her—a common complaint from teenagers everywhere, let’s be real. All of Aine’s friends end up being band members or related to the band in some way. While yes, they’re all nice to her and it’s realistic that she would have a lot of friends from the band, it’s not healthy at all for Aine to be isolated like that. She has the band, and that’s it—a self-imposed dependence, but a dependence induced by Sakuya, who only reinforces the idea that the people outside of the music world don’t understand Aine. Although, despite Sakuya not interfering here directly, this could still be considered abusive simply for the fact that it’s because of Sakuya that she can’t make friends outside of the music business in the first place. Due to dating him, all the girls (and even some of the boys) despise Aine, thus making it impossible to form any sort of relationship. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Looking at the warning signs of an abusive relationship as put forward by the Lindsay Ann Burke memorial fund, which supports the prevention of abusive relationships through workshops and classes, I find that Sakuya fits into most, but not all, of these categories. The most obvious example of which being “quick involvement”. If you recall from my introductory post, I talk about how Aine and Sakuya first met when he almost ran her over. From there, he sweeps her off her feet and they pretty much instantly fall in love. Sakuya never fails to mention how Aine is the only one for him and charms her with sweet acts and nice words. This behavior is, of course, present in any healthy relationship. The problem, however, is that there is no logical reason for their relationship. Why does Sakuya care so deeply? He knows nothing about her except that she can write and she looks good. Their relationship moves too fast, and for a seventeen volume manga, there’s no reason they couldn’t have spent a little bit longer getting to know each other before getting together.
However, the most prominent and, looking back, most uncomfortable scenes to read involve Sakuya and his jealousy. What makes Sakuya’s jealousy particularly selfish, though, is that it’s not over Aine—somehow, she’s just the one who has to deal with it. Sakuya’s jealousy is over the other men around him and his own inability to play them as well as he likes. Although the singer’s character arc is about overcoming the demons from his past and becoming a better person, it’s not until the very final chapter where the audience even gets a sense that he could have possibly achieved his goal. And even then, I’m not entirely convinced. Sensual Phrase’s formula goes: Lucifer’s doing great, but oh no! Another band is here and they’re popular! But they don’t overcome this issue
by working hard together and showing the others that Lucifer is a great band. No. Instead, Sakuya hatches a plan to let Aine work for the other band, then gets jealous that she’s working for the other band, fucks Aine in the other band’s workspace, and then brags about how Aine can only write for Lucifer because Aine is his girlfriend. Sakuya is so insecure in his relationship and his skills that he has to do this simply to assert his dominance not over Aine, but the other male groups. For all his talk about how important Aine is and how much he loves her, Sakuya ends up using her more like a tool than treating her like a girlfriend.
Of course, I’d be remiss to say if him doing this wasn’t a constant test for Aine as well. It really doesn’t come out until the final arc, however. The whole series is a constant trial for their relationship of whether or not the other is cheating on them—which screams “unhealthy relationship” disregarding all the other bad aspects present. However, Sakuya seems obsessed with proving that Aine is the best girlfriend while, at the same time, he completely disregarding Aine’s feelings and disrespecting the people he’s trying so hard to convince. Once Takayama signs on as Lucifer’s manager, his sister forges a friendship with Aine because they’re the same age and both like Lucifer. However, Takayama’s sister gets jealous once she realizes that Aine’s dating Sakuya. Hearing this, Sakuya takes it upon himself to pretend to date Takayama’s sister, even having sex with her, and then cheats on her with some other girls. While all of this is going on, Aine’s in the background, not knowing anything about what Sakuya’s doing, saying “I just have to trust him, things will be okay if I trust him.” Even after Takayama’s sister apologizes for being mean to Aine, she never tells her what happened. No one tells Aine what happened: they’re all just suddenly okay. And this whole thing comes with the disgusting message that as long as you don’t ask questions, your famous boyfriend will like you the best. Just… ew. What the hell kind of lesson is that?
As a final point, Aine is dating someone that she knows full well is violent. Sakuya is not physically violent toward Aine herself; however, he does threaten to kill other men who make a move on her. Additionally, there are several times during the manga where Sakuya claims not to have the ability to control himself when it comes to Aine. So even though the manga is trying to play this off like it’s romantic, what it’s really doing is putting the burden of other men’s lives on Aine’s shoulders as well as placing the blame for Sakuya’s actions on her. He can’t help it; his love is just too strong.
Although this manga came out years ago, back in the 90’s, it’s terrifying to see that trends in popular media really haven’t changed. If anything, these kinds of relationships have become even more acceptable and romanticized (Twilight, anyone?). Despite Sensual Phrase trying to apologize for Sakuya’s actions by giving him a negligent, abusive mother and being a victim of abuse by an older woman, in the end his behavior is not something that can be apologized away. Even if what happened to Sakuya in his past was legitimately terrible, the fact that he doesn’t get help for it and that the manga just brushes it off as something he just got over—though clearly it left lingering issues—just adds to the fact that this manga perpetuates dangerous ideas of what a relationship should be.